Amateurs Thriving at Merion
By Martin D. Emeno Jr.
ARDMORE, Pa. -- At the U.S. Open the first goal of an amateur is to make the cut, but a couple of college standouts are in the mix for the U.S. Open trophy. Pac-12 rivals Cheng-Tsung Pan of the University of Washington and Michael Kim of the University of California were in the top 10 at the end of the second day of the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club.
When play was suspended during the middle of the second round, Pan, 21, was tied for third at even par through nine holes – one stroke behind leaders Phil Mickelson and Billy Horschel – while Kim was one over with seven holes remaining.
In addition, a couple of other amateurs, Irish-born Kevin Phelan, a 2013 University of North Florida alum, and Michael Weaver, Kim’s teammate at Cal, are in position to possibly make the cut. Weaver, who is at eight over after rounds of 74-74, is right at the projected cutline. Phelan was at six over with nine holes remaining. The last time that many amateurs made the cut at the U.S. Open was the 2004 championship at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.
But the player who is leading the amateur contingent is Pan, of Chinese Taipei, who is playing in his second U.S. Open. Currently No. 6 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, Pan qualified for the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club.
“I came to the U.S. Open [in] 2011 and I just fell in love with this kind of atmosphere,” said Pan, who qualified in 2013 through the sectional qualifier at Tumble Creek Club in Cle Elum, Wash. “Personally I feel I belong [in] that kind of place. I’m not saying I’m good enough, but I love this kind of feeling and the competition is great. I just want to be here always.”
For Kim, 19, making the cut at the U.S. Open would be a great cap to an historic collegiate season. As a sophomore, Kim led a Cal team that won 11 of 14 tournaments in 2012-13. Three Cal players – Kim, Max Homa and Michael Weaver – qualified for the U.S. Open.
Although Kim is in good position to make the cut, he still needs to maintain his focus on a course on which a single mistake can lead to a big number.
“I'm trying not to think about [making the cut] too much,” said Kim, of Del Mar, Calif. “[I have] low expectations and whatever happens, happens tomorrow.”
At Merion, there is precedent for Pan’s high position on the leader board. In the 1971 U.S. Open, 21-year-old amateur Jim Simons was the 54-hole leader before finishing three strokes behind Jack Nicklaus and winner Lee Trevino.
The last amateur to win the U.S. Open was John Goodman in 1933. But on the 100th anniversary of American amateur Francis Ouimet’s upset victory over British professionals Ted Ray and Harry Vardon in the 1913 U.S. Open at The Country Club, this seemingly impossible feat still inspires amateurs around the world.